Dealing with Writing Anxiety
Writing sometimes stops before starting.
I’m recently focused on things different from writing. Writing is not among the best ways to earn a living. Still, I want to write. I write less, but I write.
However, being a perfectionist, writing not being a daily habit for me, and not being a native English speaker, writing is sometimes hard. I’ve written some pieces I’m proud of, with good appreciation, and now, when I approach the blank page, I feel anxiety. I just feel I’m not able to write something like I did, or like it could be at my best, or in my native language.
I try to do my best with “quality,” so I don’t just throw pieces online. But keeping my bar high (in my perspective) while not being a professional writer may be a conflict hard to solve. I fear that my next words will disappoint my readers. Not an acceptance thing. I just want that my writing amount to something of value, not just to a bunch of words.
So, when I start writing, I suddenly hear Editor Me saying: “Is that the best way to introduce the topic?” “Don’t you have an experience to tell?” “It doesn’t flow.”
I know, there’s plenty of advice on this, like not editing in advance (I’m one of the reckless guys who edit while writing and after writing), but it’s not just about a technique thing.
The multiple ways
In my case, most of my blocks come from my perfectionism. I know my writing is not the best around, and I know there are thousands of ways to tell my point better. Even just from my perspective, at my level, I can approach a topic from dozens of different ways.
And, like in life, too many options may mean a hard choice or no choice at all.
You can be an attorney or a doctor, but not both. So, you know that once you have decided one path, at some point there will be no way back, unless you restart from scratch (trust me, I’ve done that too). Hard choice.
What I too often forget, is that writing doesn’t mean that once you’ve written a story you can’t write it anymore. On the contrary, there’s plenty of stories from the same author on the same topic, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can write about your point in a dozen of different ways, still all of your stories being able to “deliver value.”
There’s no single way to reach a point, but the good news is that you can walk more paths. You can write more stories. You can write the story now, the way it comes to you, and then write it again later, in a different way. If they are too similar, you’ll pick one.
If your productivity is limited, you will write only a few of the possible stories. Some ideas will go in the bucket in the hope they’ll see the light some other time. But, isn’t the same in life too? That’s the best you can do. While you decide the best way to live, you have to live. The same for writers.
One written story — a well-written story — is always better than the best-unwritten one.
Sometimes, it’s not just about the multiple ways. The too many choices are there because what I want to write it’s not clear.
My best pieces come when I have a clear vision of my point. Once you know or feel the unique perspective, message, experience, or whatever you want to share, the many ways boil down to a few, for you. And, often, just one comes clear, and you start writing.
Maybe you need to go deeper, or meditate, or just focus.
Writing is not just about writing. It’s about living, understanding, imagining, and then deciding which part of it you want to share, in one form or another. Words don’t come first. Decide what you want to share, and the path will be easier.
Being stuck is a good moment for remembering the prize.
What’s your prize? Money? The glory? Grades? Creative satisfaction?
What’s your ultimate goal?
It may take time to elaborate but, be honest, deep down you know what’s your motivation. Or, at least, the direction.
Then just add the following question: are you immortal?
Plain as it seems. You won’t get the prize if you don’t write.
Easy to forget, but remembering is usually enough to unstuck me.
You may have a great motivation for your goal, but if you don’t like the process, you won’t go far.
Far enough to get a near prize, maybe, but not far enough for the long game. Sacrifice is necessary, but no good writing comes out of just sacrifice.
This goes beyond writing. Besides goals, you have to set how to reach them. And the how may make a world of difference.
Your anxiety may come from a resistance. You’re writing posts, but you don’t want to write posts.
Free yourself from strategy, for a while. You think you have to write posts but you want to write books. Well, now come back to strategy, and you’ll know that you don’t need daily posts. You need promotion by blogging. Fewer posts and more pages in your book. Or the contrary, depending on what you prefer.
Or more words for paying clients. Or more humor. Or anything else that can lead you to your goal and be enjoyable in the process. Resize your goal, if necessary.
If you force yourself in what you feel as a wrong road, it’s not just about anxiety. It’s may just be the wrong road for you.
Yes. You can fail. Yes, your first words might be the worst you wrote.
But failing is important for you, for your relationship with your readers, and for your best words too.
First off, a mistake is an effective way to learn. Certain mistakes should not happen even once, but that’s not the case of your words unless they’re offensive. Once you write a bad sentence, you’ll know that sentence doesn’t work. Scratch it, and take the lesson.
Sometimes I published things that were not at the level I expected from myself. It turned out that the readers appreciated, beyond my expectations. Because the point was good, and the less than perfect form didn’t stop them from reading and appreciating. I could also have bad feedback. But we need that too.
Finally, risking failure is the only way to let good words emerge. Your best words came out because you wrote them. They could have been a failure. But they’re there because you tried because in front of a blank page you started to write.
Time and pressure
Professionals don’t have time for things like anxiety. They have goals, bills that their results pay, maybe a family to support by mean of their writing, and deadlines.
They’re experienced, and they know beyond doubt that sooner or later they have to hit the keys. The sooner they do it, apart from research, the better. And they’re used to that.
For other writers, it may be different. You may want to make money from your writing, but you don’t need to do it for tomorrow. Or you need to do it for tomorrow, but it’s not about money.
Pressure and lack of pressure may both be a problem.
For someone, setting an artificial schedule works, like posting daily or weekly. You will probably have to compromise with quality, or risk to thin it, but it may be your way.
If you’re more like me, I prefer other ways. I call the day off, when I can, or just change the topic, genre, story. Not all days are for all kinds of writing unless you have to. At some point, you have to start, but starting against the wind may not be worth.
You don’t have to learn to squeeze time only. You also have to let it work with you and for you, especially if you’re a creative. You should be productive but in your own way.
If your first sentence takes time, don’t start to worry soon. Maybe it needs time, to be a good sentence. Maybe the rest will flow better. The urge is rarely a good reason for the choice of your written words.
At some point, you’ll have to start writing, but you’re not obliged to fill your portfolio with crap. Take your time. Retry later.
Step by step
Some stories flow like a glass of water in your throat. Others are more like pizza. You eat them one slice at a time.
Or you may drink one sip at a time. Especially if it’s not water.
For some stories, it’s hard to start. So, I start by having the point clear, and drafting a structure, as I did for this same article. Then I leave the draft in the bucket for another day. Or, maybe, when the structure is there, words come easier soon. You don’t have to guess anymore.
Don’t try to eat your story, or your chapter, in one bite.
Anyway, going back to the editing thing, also stripping editing away from your words, for the moment, works like a charm. You’re not obliged to publish. Just try. Maybe the edit will go well. Maybe you’ll trash. It’s worth trying. It’s not necessary to decide before starting.
The hard truth is that being a writer requires to write. And to write a lot.
Anxiety feeds on your writing pauses.
Starting may be hard. Restarting from a long pause is much harder.
You can’t exempt yourself from getting involved, from having your words on the page. The opportunity of being read rewards the risks you take by picking those precise words. It’s a continuous process. It’s a living thing. It’s a relationship with your readers. It’s your self-growth path. Maybe even your career. You shouldn’t stop it because you had a bad day, or because your first sentence doesn’t come as good as you’d want.
Take your time, but don’t forget that, for a writer, a day with words is better than a day without words.